Rookies on the spot in baseball postseason

The Los Angeles Dodgers were floundering before outfielder

Yasiel Puig arrived. Jose Iglesias helped the Detroit Tigers move

forward when their starting shortstop was suspended.

The Atlanta Braves? They owe part of their success to Evan

Gattis and Julio Teheran, two players in their first full seasons

in the major leagues.

There are now eight teams remaining in baseball’s postseason,

and almost all of them have at least one key rookie who will soon

be on the spot. These players have earned the confidence of their

managers, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains along

the way, now that the stakes are higher.

”Everybody, whether you’ve played 100 years or you’re a rookie,

there’s always a little anxiety when you get to postseason play.

It’s like teams playing in the Super Bowl,” Detroit manager Jim

Leyland said. ”I don’t care how long they’ve played, there’s a

difference. It’s good to be a little nervous, but it’s bad to be

scared. They’re two different things. It’s a great experience, and

for rookies, everybody’s got to go through it at some point.”

The American League playoffs opened Wednesday night with a

rookie on the mound, when Cleveland’s Danny Salazar struck out

three of the first four hitters he faced. The Indians lost 4-0 to

Tampa Bay, meaning Rays outfielder Wil Myers will have a chance to

play on. He hit .293 in 88 games this year, making a push for the

AL Rookie of the Year award.

There are rookie pitchers, such as Teheran, Gerrit Cole of

Pittsburgh, Shelby Miller of St. Louis and Sonny Gray of Oakland.

And the hitters aren’t bad, either. Gattis and Iglesias have been

impressive all year, and Puig’s first few weeks with the Dodgers

were spectacular, helping Los Angeles overcome a poor start to the

season.

”He’s been a real key for this club, just from the energy level

and the clutch hits he’s been getting and the fun he has in the

clubhouse,” Los Angeles outfielder Carl Crawford said. ”So he’s

definitely a guy that gets the team going every day, and we all

feed off of that.”

Puig hit .319 with 19 home runs in 104 games, but at times, his

aggressiveness led to mistakes like overthrowing cutoff men,

getting thrown out going for an extra base or getting picked off

after taking too big a lead at first base.

”He’s definitely going to have to watch that,” Crawford said.

”Baserunners are at a premium in the playoffs, so you don’t want

to get picked off in a situation where you can’t afford to.”

The last rookie to win a World Series or championship series MVP

award was right-hander Livan Hernandez, who won both for Florida in

1997. The only other rookie to win a World Series MVP was Larry

Sherry of the Dodgers in 1959, according to STATS.

Will any of this year’s young standouts have that type of

impact? Iglesias was an unexpected addition to Detroit’s roster

shortly before the trade deadline. The Tigers acquired him from

Boston – another eventual playoff team – because Jhonny Peralta was

on the verge of being suspended as part of baseball’s drug

investigation. Peralta is back and part of the postseason roster,

but he’ll likely play in the outfield. The smooth-fielding Iglesias

is Detroit’s everyday shortstop now.

The Tigers face Oakland in the division series. In Game 2 on

Saturday night, the Athletics will send the 23-year-old Gray to the

mound. He made his debut in July and went 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA.

”It’s been so much fun and I feel like I’ve learned so much

since I’ve been here,” Gray said. ”It’s fun to win, to come here

and win.”

The A’s also plan to start rookie Dan Straily in Game 4, if

necessary.

Cole, the No. 1 pick in the draft in 2011, went 10-7 with a 3.22

ERA this season. He’ll start Game 2 of the division series against

St. Louis. The Cardinals had a couple impressive rookies in their

rotation this year in Miller and Michael Wacha, although it’s not

yet clear if they’ll start during this series. Rookie first baseman

Matt Adams will surely be in the mix after hitting 17 homers for

St. Louis.

Miller, who went 15-9, already feels he’s come a long way since

the beginning of the year.

”It used to be throw the fastball, see if they could hit it.

That would run my pitch count up a lot,” Miller said. ”Efficiency

has been a big thing for me lately and I’m just trying to get

deeper in games and help the bullpen, be more of a starting

pitcher, do a better job of getting hitters out quicker. There’s

still room for me to improve.”

Teheran had a similar season to Miller, going 14-8, and he’s one

of a couple rookies who could be crucial for the Braves when they

take on Puig and the Dodgers. Gattis hit 21 homers and drove in 65

runs while playing mostly catcher and left field.

His approach to the postseason?

Don’t try to do too much.

”I want to play solid defense. I want to hit for a better

average and I want to put up good at-bats every time,” Gattis

said. ”I don’t want to be an easy out or an easy double play or

anything like that. I want to hit the ball hard in every

at-bat.”

AP Sports Writers Tim Booth R.B. Fallstrom, Charles Odum and

Steven Wine contributed to this report.